Today I awoke with a piercing pain on the right side of my forehead, just above and slightly behind my right eye. I awoke to that, plus nausea. I immediately thought to myself “CRAP.” I had the sinking feeling I might be in for a migraine attack. Fear rose and I deliberated between muscling through the day or making the calls to cancel appointments and clients.
As soon as I stood up to go to the bathroom and drink some water I knew it: this one was for real. Sometimes I wake up with a mini-migraine that subsides after going through morning rituals of drinking water and moving around. The quality of pain is different than that of the full on migraine attack. The migraine attack includes the piercing pain traveling down the back of my skull to the top of my neck, that metallic taste in my mouth, and the nausea. These things signal it’s time to slow down and take care.
And what I’m learning, is that these migraines require time and patience. I’ve gotten to know them, to understand the ebbs and flows, the build up to peak pain and nausea, and then the slow descent back to feeling like myself again. Where I notice things like how blue the sky is, how wonderful it feels to move around, and how delicious food tastes.
To provide some background, for the last year I was on a clinical trial drug where I received a monthly injection to prevent migraines. Doubtful as I was, the trial worked and I was nearly migraine free for an entire year. When I say it changed my life, I really mean it. Long gone were the days of regularly canceling work and social events. And the PediaLite that sat in the back of my fridge for nearly a year finally got tossed out as I no longer needed it.
To wake up with this piercing migraine today triggered fear that “the migraines are returning.” I really don’t want to return to the way I was living my life where I would be out of commission for 2-3 days at a time 3-4 times per month. The only places I visited were the couch, the bathroom, and my bed while waiting for the migraine to pass. Needless to say it was a big lesson in impermanence: I constantly reminded myself “this too shall pass.”
As I venture into this new chapter of my experience with migraines, I am vowing to be gentler with myself. I wonder: What can I learn? How can I move more slowly? How can I take better care of myself? This process is sweet, soothing, and softening. Even just by taking this new perspective, I feel more at ease.
I spent an hour this afternoon lying on my floor supported by two bolsters and covered by a cozy white blanket with gongs playing in the background. I was transported out of the pain state. Even though the migraine didn’t totally disappear, the pain lessened and I felt more relaxed.
I felt grateful to surrender to the process of migraine and at the same time to take accountability for my own self healing. After giving myself this mini gong bath, my faith that “everything would be ok” was fully restored.
I love being surprised by what fills me up inside, by what makes me feel lifted.
On Tuesday I felt drained by 11:30am after a full morning of teaching that started at 6am. I felt off and short of breath for all of my classes and had many moments of “what the f*ck am I doing?” and dreams of days off, massages, and other things I could do to fix this feeling.
I had a new client Tuesday afternoon: a couple in need of yoga as part of their physical rehabilitation program. I had a description of the clients’ cases and understood it would be a challenge. This case turned out to be one of the biggest challenges of my yoga teaching career. I had to really stay close to my center. Stabilize. Breathe. Be strong AND soft. And trust myself. Big time.
I walked away from the session feeling a deep desire to help the couple get stronger and heal. And when I did my own practice Tuesday night I felt a fullness that wasn’t there before. I felt a renewed sense of trust and belief in myself.
So it wasn’t a massage, or a day off that I needed to fill me up. Instead it was an opportunity that asked me to fully rise to the occasion.
It’s true what they say: we rise by lifting others.
I made a routine visit to my chiropractor last August, who also happened to be my running coach for Chicago Marathon. We started the visit with the usual: checking out my posture, alignment, palpating my upper hips, shoulders, and ribcage.
My face went flush when he remarked I lost weight as most marathon runners do. Over the previous weeks I noticed my clothes fitting differently but it wasn’t until it was confirmed that I had lost weight that I allowed myself to believe it.
Strangely, what was intended as an innocent observation by my coach became my obsession. I was on such a high from my coach’s innocent observation and inspected subtle changes in my body as mileage piled on each week… 6 miles on Tuesday, 8 miles on Friday, and 18 miles on Sunday. Every mile was like money in the bank: An investment to maintain thin.
With every additional mile it was like money in the bank that I would maintain the weight loss. An investment to maintain thin.
Meanwhile, in the height of summer I was experiencing flu-like symptoms, taking naps daily as my body often crashed half-way through the day. I pushed myself through nearly all my runs to maintain my training schedule and, as much as I hate to admit this, I liked this new thinner version of myself! I was keeping the weight off by running like a maniac.
Bloodwork showed my iron levels were extremely low, and my doctor cautioned me not to proceed with the marathon training as it could jeopardize my health by pushing myself too hard.
My solution was to take supplements and adjust my diet so that I got enough nutrients. Not once did I deprive myself of food while training. I ate, and still can eat, like a horse. But in the back of my mind I knew this “diet” was also beneficial for weight-loss so, in making this diet change I was in a win-win situation: increase my energy / iron AND keep the marathon weight off or, even better, on a steady decline.
I finished Chicago Marathon and had the time of my life. Thanks to the training program specifically designed for me by my coach I felt strong and capable. In the days preceding the race I got the post-race blues and scrambled for “what am I gonna do next?!”
I love the thrill and challenge of a race and I love running. The training is tough but strengthens me in so many ways beyond physical and there is an exhilaration around race day like none other. My foray into endurance sports has not been entirely a means to a weight-loss, body fat deprivation end.
But as I got off my high Chicago Marathon horse I started noticing something: I was terrified of when the weight would come back on. (I know – the amount of weight is negligible and something few people would notice.) Once my body recovered I started running again and tracked how many days per week I was active and constantly questioned myself, “was it enough?”
About one month out from the race, my jeans tightened around my waistline. I stared at myself in the mirror and said FUCK. It was too late. While I was busy getting my social life back in order, those pounds piled right back on and I said hello to a familiar friend: the bulge around my belly and my expanding, softening love-handles.
I turned to more yoga classes, meditation, and in the hopes that I would find salvation and solution to my “problem” I pinpointed my next race: a half-marathon trail race in mid-Spring.
Meditation took up more of the time that I once filled with running and with the help of that practice I realized how obsessive I became about my body’s softer, post-marathon shape. A trail race is something I have wanted to do for a long time but now I found myself posing the question: is this the healthiest thing for me to do? Is this really the answer?
Once you have an eating disorder you are never wholly “cured” from it. Yoga healed me and pulled me out of a deep, dark hole but I always knew I was never immune to bulimia residue surfacing as I got older and here I saw I was absolutely right. Running and a packed training schedule took the role of purging.
So as I enter into 2016 and consider my “race calendar,” I proceed with caution and curiosity.
Call it a resolution, an intention, or a goal – this year I will mindfully approach the endurance athlete within me. As I visit a race page I will pause and ask myself what are the motivating factors compelling me to click “Register” and hand over the following 4 months of my free time to training.
My body has settled into what feels like my normal shape and size (but then again, what is normal?) and I have voluntarily taken an indefinite break from running and excessive exercise. I’m listening to my triggers and when my boyfriend tells me he likes the softness of my love-handles I do my best to believe him and see my body from a much kinder place.
For any endurance athlete out there, I am not writing this to discount or discourage your sport. I am merely noticing my own experience and how my love of running combined with a “never give up” attitude took me far beyond my limits and into dangerous territory that was no longer serving me. It’s time I take a few steps back and recalibrate in the hopes that I can revisit my running shoes while maintaining a deep love and respect for the shape of my body.
All in due time.
I went bouldering last night at Rock Climb Fairfield – putting my Bowspring form to the test. I tackled the first climb thinking oh man I’ve so got this, I’m gonna fly right up that wall. Only to make it past maybe the 3rd hold before falling onto the crash pad.
We spent well over an hour at the gym and each time I approached the wall I realized it wasn’t about tackling the wall head on, full throttle – it was about slowing down, calming down, and – dare I say – NOT trying so hard.
When I reminded myself not to try so hard, my body started working more efficiently. Miracles didn’t happen, I did not skyrocket to the top, I was humbled each time I attempted the easiest climbs as I maybe only made it to the top twice. I noticed though that I was able to use my body to my advantage as I shifted my feet and my hips from side to side, tapping into the power in my legs rather than gripping for dear life.
You don’t have to try so hard, I kept reminding myself. Each time I gave myself permission to do that, I made small gains and started to get more of an understanding of how this bouldering stuff works.
I have gone climbing (indoors and ONCE outdoor!) a handful of times and confronted my fears of heights, falling, and failing. It was not until yesterday that I started to see how I could work WITH my body rather than against it. I could work WITH the wall rather than fight it.
I wasn’t just reaching with my arms but with the power in my legs and the desire in my heart to not get down on myself for falling but instead to just keep going. Even when I fell, I did not get discouraged: instead I rested, recovered, and hopped back up to try the next climb. And when I tried again I moved slowly, calmly, efficiently, and trusted my body.
I sometimes wake up in a mindset of lacking or scarcity and I fixate on what’s not going well or what I don’t have. It could be from a dream or anxiety I took to bed with me from the night before.
When this happens, I wake up feeling lacking and I go through my morning ritual – rise, rinse face, drink water and coffee, meditate – hoping that it will shake the feeling of scarcity. The feeling that I am not doing enough, not creating enough, not putting enough out into the world, on my website, on social media, in a newsletter…
But then someone asked me a question this morning: What will be great about today?
And I was flooded with so many answers…
A new trail run with a good friend.
Valuing my time.
Morning meditation with my two cats curled in my lap.
Hot coffee and flax granola for breakfast.
Time to write. TIME TO WRITE!
Waking up later than 5AM.
Listening to music in my car.
This question made me notice all the abundance in my life, in my today.
It made the “not enough”-ness seem like more than enough.
Ask yourself the question: What will be great about today?
Why I’ll always chose the Croque Madame over the salad.
Returning to Paris as an adult and staying big means not giving a f*ck about whether I’m wearing the right thing. It means speaking French with an accent I once felt self-conscious about and not caring if I make a mistake or throw in an English word or two — or five. It means eradicating expectations about what my trip will be like. It means seeing all the beautiful French women — I mean they are STUNNING — and being in awe of them instead of comparing myself to them. Paris is a new experience this time. I’m an adult. A real “I pay my own rent and (mostly) have my shit together” adult. The last time I was here was 2009 for a few days for work and before that was my study abroad spring 2005 and before that a study abroad summer 2003. That summer started my love affair with the city: the food, the wine, and the men (actually, just one man). So when I first stepped foot on the Metro after taking the RER commuter rail from the airport, the smell immediately brought me back to the many metro rides I took with friends to make it to a bar, already warmed up with a gentle buzz from the 3EUR wine we pre-gamed with at home because, who were we kidding, we couldn’t afford most of the places we were going to.
The smell of the subway reminded me of museum hopping that summer, wondering what kind of trouble we’d get into, and being slightly irresponsible 20-somethings. It brought me back to French house parties and driving past le Tour Eiffel lighting up the night. My petit ami (my guy) was a DJ and he had friends. And his friends were single and looking for girlfriends for the summer and it all came together so perfectly: we got to party and drink and eat a lot for next to nothing. And we had the time of our lives. I remember the party where I licked red wine dripping down the side of my glass and a smelly Frenchman stuck his nose up and told me how rude and unladylike I was. I remember being terrified of making a mistake when I spoke French so I would often resort to English or half-ass my French accent even though I knew damn well how to pronounce everything. I was terrified of judgement. The judgement was already there though – it was my own. It lay in my own rules that I couldn’t make a mistake and had to be perfect. Heaven forbid I sounded stupid speaking French.
I learned many things that summer. I learned how to take care of myself in a foreign country (with only a few stumbles here and there), how to navigate Paris’ intricate metro system, how to make a quiche with my host mom, and how to have an eating disorder abroad. I learned and perfected the ability to sustain and hide my eating disorder in one of the most glamorous cities in the world.
I have a memory embedded in my body: the memory of being in Paris the summer of 2003 for study abroad and amongst all the friends, the partying, the museums, the dancing, the men, the food and the wine I lived through a food calculator and made myself throw up wherever and whenever I ‘needed’ to. I was so unstable and unsure of myself that whenever I went on a date, I downed a glass of wine to settle my nerves and feel a little more confident. Before leaving the US I made a promise to myself that I would not throw up in Paris.
Rule #1: NO THROWING UP IN PARIS.
I broke my promise only 4 days after my arrival when homesickness set in and I “felt fat” after a big dinner. I returned to my host family’s empty apartment (my host mother being a very successful lawyer was almost never home) feeling terrible about myself and sweating my ass off because it was summer and most Parisians don’t need their homes to feel like the arctic circle by blasting AC. I put on my sleep shorts and tank top, felt my belly had grown a little since my last meal and decided I had to take care of this. I had to fix myself, immediately. I went into the lawyer’s bathroom which had an ornate antique clawfoot tub and a hanger for my intimates drying overhead. It was in the bathroom where I made myself throw up — in the ornate antique toilet — over and over again. The smell of the bathroom was unfamiliar at first but as the summer progressed that smell caused a gut reaction (no pun intended) to purge.
The shame I felt: here I was studying abroad in Paris for a summer. Having the time of my life and making myself puke. All that good food and wine, gone to waste. People just don’t DO that, right?
At the end of my summer I spent a few nights in London with my mom and sister. We shared a hotel room which meant we also shared a bathroom. After one very indulgent dinner, I made sure I was the first one back to the hotel room so I could purge in private. Immediately after, I felt awful, but also felt the comforting emptiness that accompanies the act of purging. I put on my PJs and crawled into bed. When my mom returned to the room, she must have seen some residual throw up in the toilet and asked if I was feeling ok. Mortified. I was mortified. I buried my head in my pillow and muttered ‘yeah I’m fine, I don’t know what you’re talking about.’ I fucking flat out lied.
Now, 12 years later, I am in Paris with my mother, sharing a hotel room, and a bathroom. I will be honest, I sometimes revisit my small fear that if I eat all this bread I’m going to turn into a cream puff. But am I really that worried about all the pain au chocolats I’m eating during this special week away? Nope. Am I afraid of all the butter in all the things? Not one bit. Can I put the fear away and simply enjoy myself? Can I say “Bring it Cream Puff, I’m also going to dive into this grand marnier soufflé and enjoy every morsel. And when I wake up tomorrow, I’m going to start my day with another croissant and not give it a second thought.”?
The answer to that question is a resounding YES.
Because in the end even if I do turn into a demi-baguette, it doesn’t matter. It just doesn’t matter. I chose to go on this trip to spend time with my mother, to eat the food, drink the wine, soak up the culture, and be in awe of all the beauty that exists in this great city. I did NOT come here to poke at my midsection and ponder “how can I fix this? Should I eat the boring salad or the croque madame?”
A new rule is established: Always chose the croque madame.
Not only do I keep a big picture in terms of what I eat (go for what I want) but because I care less about being perfect in my body, I care less about speaking perfect French. Now I can say “can we please have l’addition?” (“The check”) without being self conscious that I am blending the phrases while perfectly pronouncing ‘l’addition.’ Because really what is there to be so afraid of? The worst case scenario is someone doesn’t understand and asks me to repeat myself. Ok no biggie! And best case: they get it, they understand, and respond in French. Boom!
If someone told me to “Stay big” 12 years ago in Paris, the word big would have scared me, made me squeamish, and want to run away and retreat. Now there is still some residual shame and fear of “messing up” or not wearing the “right” thing. But my guiding voice in my heart consistently reminds me to Stay Big. When I let my heart lead and stay big I order the croque madame in my best possible somewhat broken French and have a cream puff for dessert because I’m only in Paris with my mom so many times in my life.
Dozens of questions coursed through my mind at mile 6.7 of America’s Finest City Half Marathon. Did I need to take my next GU? How was my knee going to hold up? Was it time to take my shirt off? And that’s when my race got interesting. That’s when it became my first race with no shirt on.
It wasn’t something planned or premeditated. In fact I based my decision primarily on comfort more than anything else. Drenched in my own sweat, my race singlet became sticky and heavy. Like wearing leather pants on a piping hot day. Sweat happens when you’re running in 90% humidity and temps well over 80 degrees.
It was one of those “fuck it” moments after running 6.7 miles completely exposed to the sun. The AFC Half does not afford many opportunities for shade. As I peeled off my leathery shirt it was like a thousand angels sang from above and my skin breathed a deep sigh of relief. This changed the tone of my race from heat and humidity suppression to light and fancy free running through the streets of downtown San Diego … shirtless!
This was not an act to draw attention. This was, as I mentioned before, largely for comfort. And then it turned into so much more. For the rest of my race, the remaining 6.4 miles, I thought about how over my endurance career of nearly 6 years I had not completed a single race shirtless. It’s not that I always wore a more breathable shirt. No, I can recall many a time I wished I could take strip down to just my sports bra and shorts.
The reason I never dared to bare was because I felt so ashamed of my body. Completely and utterly ashamed of my imperfect, puffy belly and the way the bulge gathered right above the waistband of my shorts. Not to mention the armpit bulge. I know – I probably sound like a total asshole to some of you, feeling shameful about my body. But listen – this is something we are conditioned to feel regardless of what we may look like to others. And for me, I simply couldn’t stand the thought of what my race pictures might turn out to look like or what onlookers might think as they saw me jiggling by. (And who says “jiggling” is a bad thing, anyway?)
This year for the first time ever I trained several times with just my sports bra and shorts and while it took a great deal of self-talk to get the point of ditching my shirt, it was the most liberating feeling of all time. I not only trained for the mileage but also the courage to bare my body in a way that was meaningful and powerful to me.
It’s important to me that I walk the talk, put my money where my mouth is, and so forth with everything I am trying to encourage others to do. Loving, even simply accepting our bodies as they are is really challenging work. And there are so many layers that we have each developed over time based on experiences and teachings that we are conditioned to believe without ever questioning – what’s wrong with cellulite anyway? Who made up that rule?? Because, can somebody PLEASE tell me who made up the rule that cellulite is the devil?
I am inspired when people are unapologetically themselves. And maybe that’s why this particular experience was so empowering. Running without a shirt on comes with practical purposes like staying cool but it’s something I have only dreamed of doing. In previous years I would stop myself because I wouldn’t want anyone to be offended by my body. It feels like stepping even more into who I am – and it’s a part of myself that I am still starting to uncover. And it’s insanely cool to continue getting to know this unashamedly bold and brave part of myself that I always knew was somewhere down there in the adorable cushions of my belly.
Still I cringe sometimes when I see the race photos from AFC Half Marathon. But I remind myself that part of the work is going through this process with the ability to start to change perspective. So I then go back to the photos and look at them instead with approval rather than criticism. It doesn’t have to be exuberant love, Just looking at ourselves with acceptance.
If running without a shirt helps me unveil the boldest parts of myself and learn to love my body, then by god I’m sticking with it. (The same holds true for yoga without a shirt on!)
Sometimes when I feel so disgusted with my body, I am reminded of what it’s like to be in a bad relationship. The kind where you walk on eggshells around each other and forget anything else can possibly exist. It’s the one you just can’t bear to part with because you are afraid. Self-loathing becomes your security blanket, where it’s all you know. It’s your default because it feels safe. Who knows what terrors could happen should you dare to toss the blanket aside and find a new one.
Just like walking away from a bad relationship, turning off the self hatred switch is easier said than done. It will be hard as fuck, will make you scared shitless, totally vulnerable, and naked to the world. At the same time, it is something you never regret and it is one of the best things you will ever do for yourself.
Consider the way you talk to yourself. Be completely honest – what are the kinds of things you say to or about yourself? It is not uncommon for most men and women to verbally self-abuse. Imagine if you started speaking this way to the people in your life. They wouldn’t tolerate it for one second.
We default to negative self-talk because somewhere along the way we learned it is bombastic or pompous to think we are attractive. We learned we are not entitled to have an honest, clear view on ourselves. We have to first go through a filter, after which point it is then appropriate to determine our worth. And even then, we still suck. We are conditioned to act this way because we have gone through years of training and so this paradigm is far easier to exist in than changing our ways.
In the exact same way, it becomes easy to fester in an unhealthy relationship. We get accustomed to the silence that speaks volumes. It is seemingly effortless to tweak who we are for the sake of pleasing someone else, while we know damn well this person is not serving us.
The negative self-talk does not serve us either. Who told you to determine your self worth based on whether or not you have a thigh gap? Or that stilettos are objectively sexier than birkenstocks? It’s time to erase their message from your mind, permanently. The way you would erase a voicemail from an ex-lover on an old answering machine, and then throw away the tape for good measure.
How do we begin to redefine beauty? How do we release old beliefs of what our body should look like? How do we make up our own body beautiful rules?
One thing we can do is choose an empowering modality, such as a postural practice like Bowspring, to connect with the body. Move in a nourishing manner. Whether you select yoga, zumba, running, or hiking, the movement is not for the sake of weight loss and changing who you are but instead to wake up to who you already are. We want to wake up the little light deep inside.
Find a modality to wake up and be present within the body you are given. When you move, embrace the shapes you create. The shapes are beautiful not because anybody else says so, but because you believe so.
If we always try to comply with certain rules and regulations about what we should look like, or a certain way we should behave, we will live in the drone of an unhappy relationship. Only this time the relationship is with ourselves. Changing habits and patterns is hard work, but much like walking away from that stifling relationship, it is worth the pain and the effort.